Grant of Sheuglie's Contest
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GRANT OF SHEUGLIE'S CONTEST BETWEEN HIS VIOLIN, PIPE AND HARP. AKA - "Màiri Nighean Deorsa (1)." Scottish, Slow Air (2/4 time). A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. "Grant of Sheugly, in Glen Urquhart, supposed composer of the verses to this beautiful ancient air, was himself a performer on the violin, pipe, and harp, and, it would appear, a poet, in the like manner. In appreciating the qualities of each instrument, he supposes they had quarrelled, and that he was called upon to decide the contest. In addressing a verse to his pipe, he observes 'how it would delight him, on hearing the sound of war, to listen to her notes, in striking up the gathering, to rally round the chief, on a frosty spring morning, whilst the hard earth reverberated all her notes, so as to be heard by the most distant person interested.' To the harp he says, --'The pleasure which thy tones afford are doubled, whilst accompanying a sweet female voice, or round the festive board, inspired by love or wine, I reach beyond my ordinary capacity, and feel the pleasure of pleasing.' But to his violin, which he calls by the literal name of the air, 'Mary, George's Daughter,' and seems to have been his favourite, though held cheap by the other combatants, he says,--'I love thee, for the sake of those who do,--the sprightly youth and bonny lasses.--all of whom declare, that, at a wedding, dance, or ball, thou, with thy bass in attendance, can have no competitor,--thy music having the effect of electricity on those who listen to it,'--and on thus receiving their due share of praise, their reconciliation is convivially celebrated. The editor's grandfather acquired this air from a successor of the composer, who was his contemporary" (Fraser).
Sanger & Kinnaird (Tree of Strings, 1992) record that Sheuglie, or Shewglie as they give his name, was Alexander Grant of Shewglie, born around 1675 who died in captivity in London in July, 1746. Shewglie's branch of the family were supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and though he did not take part in the battle of Culloden, Shewglie did write verses in support of the rebellion. Denounced by loyal members of the Grant clan, Shewglie was arrested along with his eldest son and the Rev. Mr. John Grant. Although the son and the minister were later released to return to their homes, the reprieve came too late for Shewglie, who, being elderly and having undergone great hardship in prison, contracted a fever and died. In addition to being a poet, Alexander was a skilled musician on some combination of the harp, bagpipe and fiddle; when he could find time, that is, as he reputedly fathered 14 sons and six daughters! The original Gaelic words to the song have been lost.
Versions of the melody can also be found in the music manuscript of Joseph MacDonald (c. 1760, p. 82) as the pibroch "March for a Beginner", and as an untitled air in the Angus MacKay manuscript (vol. 2), compiled in the 1830's, taken "from an mss. written in Bengall by Mr. John [sic] MacDonald about the year 1730." "An òinseach" (The Idiot) is the title in the Angus Fraser manuscript (c. 1855, vol. 3, No. 14). Angus Fraser was the son of Capt. Simon Fraser, in whose 1816 book "Grant of Sheuglie's Contest" appears (he also gives the title "Màiri Nighean Deorsa").
It is interesting that Fraser also includes another Scots Gaelic song (and reel), "Pipe Slang (The)," which the author noted was a the bragging of a bagpipe at a country wedding, in which he (i.e. the pipes) emerges the more reliable and superior instrument in comparison with the fiddle. See also the triple-time version of the tune printed by Donald Dow as ""Màiri Nighean Deorsa (2)/Mary the Daughter of George."
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Fraser (The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles), 1816; No. 3, p. 2.